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Fond memories of high school hockey

I recently traveled to International Falls in the dead of winter … on purpose. Twice  My wife politely turned down my invitation to join me both times.
It has been awhile since I stayed in International Falls in the winter. I had forgotten how much snow it receives and how cold it can get. But my mother didn’t raise any fools. So the first trip, I traveled during the annual “January thaw.” It wasn’t so bad. The week before it was 39 below zero! That is air temperature, folks, not windchill.
I dodged that bullet, but the snow banks were high at every intersection, and a driver needed to use care in creeping into the street to see if there was oncoming traffic. It felt like driving in a tunnel at times.
The second trip was made last Wednesday during the gale-force winds. I bucked those winds for 350 miles, bopping in and out of snow squalls all the way to the Iron Range. After that point, I was back into winter. The snow kept getting deeper as I headed farther north.
By the time I got to the Falls, I had wandered into a major blizzard. Sitting in my car in the Hardee’s parking lot, I could barely see 100 feet as the winds intensified. It also was below zero!
It was earlier in the trip that I realized I had forgotten something. My long underwear. After the mild winter around here, I figured long underwear was no longer necessary. I was wrong!
I actually had a purpose to my travels. I am working on a project to document the Falls Broncos hockey teams of the early 1960s that won 59 straight games. I wanted to talk to these old Broncos about their exploits before they all passed on and their feat is forgotten. Most of them I knew, having grown up with them.
The winning streak began in late 1964 after the Broncos lost to Duluth East in the Region 7 finals. Back then, there were few teams playing hockey in Region 3 (southwest Minnesota), so the runner-up in Region 7 or Region 8, (they alternated) qualified for the state hockey tournament, too.
So the Broncos finished second in the region, and who do they face in the first round of the state tournament? Duluth East.
The Falls won that rematch and won the 1964 state title, too. That started the streak that lasted until the second game of the 1966-67 season. In between they won two more state championships with two undefeated teams.
Quite an accomplishment.
I got interested in the “streak” after attending my brother’s 50-year class reunion in 2015 and mine in 2016. I had an opportunity to listen to the stories and talk to those old geezers. It dawned on me that these stories were too good to lose to history. So someone needed to get them down in writing. That is my aim.
There was the story about the quickest goal in school history that did not count. It occurred in the last regular season game in 1963-64. The Falls was playing St. Paul Cretin. The puck was dropped to the start the game, and before anyone knew it, the Falls center man slapped the puck from center ice into the Cretin net before four ticks were off the clock.
The shot so shocked everyone that the referee went over to the Falls bench and asked Coach Larry Ross what to do. Ross said the goal should not count, “because we’ll get some more.” The Falls lost that game 3-1, and Ross later said, “I’ll never do that again.”
Or the story of 1965 state championship game that featured three Broncos with serious injuries, and all played in the game. One had eight stitches to the head and was missing two teeth from the previous night, another played with a bad back and a third played with a broken wrist, but didn’t know it until after the game.
They were a tough bunch back then. One thought still lingers: the two best teams in Minnesota high school hockey back then may have been from International Falls. They practiced against each other every day. There were so many good hockey players that did not make the Broncos traveling squad that they could have fielded two teams!
Rich Glennie was the editor of The Chronicle for 23 years. He retired Aug. 1, 2014, but still plans to submit an occasional column.